Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

Old Dodgers Recall Coliseum Days

March 29th, 2008 · No Comments · Dodgers

A half-dozen Dodgers veterans from the early days in Los Angeles, men who played in the Coliseum, got together for a fairly informal press conference an hour before the stadium, using the cramped room under the stands where Pete Carroll does his postgame stuff.

They were asked their favorite Coliseum memory, and several guys had vivid recollections.Carl Erskine, a veteran pitcher even in 1958, remembered pitching the first game played here, against the Giants.

“I was getting toward the end of my career, and when (manager) Walter Alston told me I’d get the first start in the ballpark, I was honored,” Erskine said. “Pitching the first game in a new city, opening up the West Coast to baseball.

“The more I thought about it, I wanted to make sure that first pitch was a strike. I thought about that a lot.

“Alston called me in and said ‘I order you to throw a first strike’ to Jim Davenport, who was leading off for the Giants. He was a rookie who had had a hot spring. And Alston said, ‘The second pitch, I want you to flatten (Davenport), cap one way, bat the other. Welcome him to the National League.’

“So, first pitch, a strike. Then the knockdown pitch, a good one. cap off, bat out of his hands. He gets up, dusts himself off, there’s no fight or anything … and on the next pitch he singled off the screen in left field.

“I looked at Alston in the dugout and he was doing this,” Erskine said, extending his hands, palms up in a gesture of puzzlement. “He was hot, what are you gonna do?”

Erskine not only started the game, he was the pitcher of record in a Dodgers victory. “To be the starting pitcher and winning pitcher in the first game meant a lot.”

Duke Snider, the native Angeleno who had been such a hero in Brooklyn, had trouble coming to grips with the Coliseum as a ball stadium.

“I was born and raised in Boyle Heights (in East L.A.) and I used to come here all the time for Fourth of July fireworks and track meets and USC-UCLA games. I was a USC football fan and still am. They’re pretty good.

“My first thought when I first stepped into here (as a baseball stadium) were ‘420, 430’ …” he said, referring to the distance of the fences (from home) in center and right. “The Moon Shot wasn’t quite invented yet.”

Snider recalled an unpleasant interlude.

“Bob Gibson (of the Cardinals) was pitching against us one night and he threw me a 95-mile-an-hour pitch inside on me. I was behind the pitch … and I sliced it over the the screen (in left) for a home run. Next time up, I got one aimed at my ribs and I put my elbow down and the ball hit my elbow and broke it.”

Wally Moon, who joined the Dodgers in 1959 in a trade with the Cardinals, was the man who perfected the “Moon shot,” blooping the ball over the fence in short left field. He had 19 homers that year, a career high.

He said his fondest memory of the Coliseum was a 1959 game started by the not-quite-yet-famous Sandy Koufax. “He struck out 18 and we were tied 2-2,” Moon said. “I came up in the bottom of the ninth with a couple of runners on and I hit a Moon shot, one of the best.

“I felt good for Sandy because of the way he was pitching. I said ‘We can’t let him lose.’ That game stands out. It also was pivotal in our stretch run.” (The Dodgers won the pennant — and the World Series — in 1959.)

Said Don Demeter: “I loved the weather. No rain. No cold.”

Chuck Esseghian remembered a 1960 opener. “I pinch hit for Don Drysdale in the 11th inning and I hit a home run and we won that game,” he said. “I have a picture of Duke and Gil Hodges waiting for me at home plate. That’s one of my prize possessions.”

Moon, on how weird the dimensions were at the Coliseum: “Closest thing like it now is the Green Monster (in Boston). That gives you a little bit of the feel of it.”

Said Erskine: “It was a little ragged, a little rough as a baseball stadium. But pitching in front of 80,000 people was amazing.”


0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment